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Green Solutions to Take Root
A six-year program aimed at introducing environmentally friendly and quality-oriented agriculture into China by starting pilot regions in North China will be launched early next month.

Co-executed by the Ministry of Agriculture and the German Technical Cooperation, the program is expected to provide models in coping with the many environmental problems mainly caused by the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides in intensive agriculture, a common practice among Chinese farmers.

The program will receive investments of 10 million marks (US$4.8 million) from Germany, according to Horst Betz, head of the Natural Resources Protection and Poverty Alleviation section from the German Technical Cooperation, and 80 million yuan (US$9.6 million) from China.

According to the International Fertilizer Industry Association, the consumption of artificial fertilizer high in nitrogen rose in China by more than 2,450 percent between 1961 and 1997.

The surplus seeps into soil, contaminates both surface and ground water and leads to high levels of nitrate in certain vegetables and other farm products.

For heavy-drinkers, nitrates can cause the formation of carcinogenic substances.

Nitrates are especially harmful to small children in that once they enter the body, they can be modified to nitrite, a chemical that attaches to blood cells transporting oxygen and interferes with the functioning of those cells, causing the death of a child due to lack of oxygen.

In addition, pesticides are also abused in Chinese farming. In 1996, around 9 kilograms of pesticides were used on 1 hectare of farmland, compared with around 3 kilograms of pesticides used on farmland of the same area in Germany.

Betz said an integrated approach will be adopted by the program. This means that aspects of fertilizer, pesticides, animal wastes and policy, laws, regulations and standards will all be dealt with.

Organic fertilizer will be introduced as an alternative to chemical fertilizers, according to Betz. "We provide the kind of organic fertilizer which has a much lower nitrate content than artificial fertilizer and much easier to handle than livestock manure," he said.

Methods such as developing tolerant or resistant plant varieties, better aeration of green houses and the use of natural enemies of a certain species of pests will provide farmers with other choices before resorting to sprayers.

Pilot areas are selected from North China's Shandong, Hebei provinces and Tianjin Municipality, which share more than 60 per cent of vegetable and fruit market in Beijing.

"Some open-minded farmers who accept the new methods more quickly will set an example for the others," said Betz. And extension workers are also trained to spread knowledge and disseminate ideas among local farmers.

According to Betz, Germany once suffered the same environmental problems and years of efforts have greatly bettered the situation.

"It's hard to initiate change. But it's to provide healthy food for our next generation and it's to prepare China for the entry into WTO and a green Olympic Games," said Betz.

Established in 1975 and owned by the Federal Republic of Germany, the German firm is a service enterprise for development cooperation with worldwide operations. It has conducted programs with the Chinese Government in natural resources protection, poverty alleviation, energy management, economic and structural reform and many other aspects.

(China Daily 10/15/2001)

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